I Wish My Cat Could Be as Polite as Our Houseguest


When my husband announced that he wanted to host a guest from another country, the first question that crossed my lips was, "What about the cat?" The second was, "Who?"

It turned out that when my husband was traveling through Europe a few years ago, he met a Japanese backpacker. They hung out and exchanged e-mails with the friendly farewell, "Hey, if you’re ever in my area, give me a call."

While you don’t usually hear from a global pal ever again, Ryuichi actually took my husband up on his offer and emailed to say he was coming to the U.S. We decided to invite him to stay a few days in our humble abode, but there was one small concern. What about the cat?

Our cat, Furball, is not exactly houseguest friendly. He’s friendly, but he’s also very particular about how he likes to be petted. This is a cat that you can literally rub the wrong way. To the uninitiated novice, there’s a risk of eliciting a sharp swat if you overstay Furball’s welcoming invitation to lavish attention upon him.

We decided to give the choice to Ryuichi. We invited him over, but let him know about the cat to see if it might be an issue. In his email, Ryuichi assured us that the cat was no problem at all and that he was most thankful for having a place to stay for a few days.

We took his words at face value. Looking back, I realize now that Ryuichi was probably just being polite.

Ryuichi arrived with his backpack in tow. My husband introduced us and then, of course, we introduced him to Furball. The cat was mildly curious about the new visitor. Ryuichi, on the other hand, was absolutely fascinated by the cat. It was almost as if he’d never seen a live pet up close before. That should have raised a red flag in my mind, but I was too charmed by Ryuichi’s polite manner and his hostess gift of delicate Japanese stationery.

Ryuichi asked if he could pet the cat, and seeing how enchanted he was with his first encounter with Furball, we gave him the rundown of instructions for petting Furball.

  1. Don’t let Furball see your hand when you pet him.
  2. Only stroke his back, never his head.
  3. If he starts looking at you, take your hand away. A good rule of thumb is to only pet Furball three times in a row.
  4. Failure to comply with these rules could lead to a Furball attack.

Ryuichi carefully took in each of these instructions and then tentatively reached out to stroke Furball’s back. So far, so good.

After three strokes, Ryuichi kept going. Furball started looking at him and then I said, "Okay, that looks like enough."

Over the next couple of days, either my husband or I were around whenever Ryuichi and Furball were in the same room. Ryuichi would pet Furball a few times, Furball would purr, and then Ryuichi would stop. They seemed to get along fine.

On day three, I went out to go to a class. When I left, all seemed well. When I returned, everything had changed.

While I was gone, Ryuichi had experienced a Furball attack. It always takes people by surprise when the sweet little black cat swiftly and suddenly swats a hand away like a ninja with razor-sharp claws.

Apparently, what had happened was that while my husband was doing some work in the office, Furball and Ryuichi were alone together in the living room. Ryuichi was reading a book and all was quiet for about an hour before my husband heard the yelp. He ran out of the office to find Ryuichi holding his hand with a telltale red scratch on it.

Immediately afterwards, Ryuichi retrieved a Japanese-to-English electronic translator from his bag. He typed busily for five minutes. Then he pointed to Furball and asked, "Does he?" and motioned to the display on the electronic dictionary. He pointed to the cat again. He pointed to the translator.

My husband peered into the digital display and read the word "RABIES."

My husband chuckled and assured Ryuichi that Furball did not have rabies. When I came home, the incident had blown over, but Ryuichi didn’t try to pet Furball again.

The next day, Ryuichi was scheduled to move on. He thanked us profusely for hosting him.

Before he left, I wished I had borrowed his translator to look up one phrase. Fortunately, with the proliferation of online translators, I soon found what I was looking for.

Shite kudasai watashi no neko o nadete inai. (Please don’t pet my cat.)

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